In many countries today, the elderly population is growing exponentially. For example, Japan’s elderly population is the highest among the 200 member countries of the United Nations. If this trend continuea, the number of people aged 65 and over will reach 30% of the population by 2025. Subsequently, Japan will enter an era where two working-age people support one elderly person. Even in Europe, such as Italy and Portugal, the wave of an aging population is approaching. Alarm bells are ringing around the world. What kind of help will artificial intelligence (AI) and other technologies give us in adapting to this aging society? The future of artificial intelligence is going to determine the lifestyles of people around the world.
Increased AI Support for the Elderly
There are 3 main types of support that can be provided by artificial intelligence.
1. Medical and nursing care assistance
2. Living and lifestyle support
3. Communication support
Let’s look at each of these areas in detail below.
1. Medical and Nursing Care Assistance
In the fields of medical and nursing care, artificial intelligence is going to be of great assistance. Specifically, in solving the shortage of doctors as a result of the aging population. In addition, artificial intelligence is going to be able to perform detailed tasks and manage data more accurately and quickly than human hands. This will be very useful in the medical field, which deal with many complicated and enormous tasks.
In order for artificial intelligence to take root in the medical field, it is necessary to improve its functions and accuracy. The following are some areas in which artificial intelligence is expected to play an active role in medical care.
・At-home medical evaluations
・Sharing of biometric data
・Diagnostic imaging (skin, endoscopy, fundus, radiology imaging, etc.)
Cooperation between AI and specialist doctors
・Comprehensive diagnosis based on interview, physical examination, diagnostic imaging, and other examination findings.
・Prescription support (automated adjustment of dosage for renal function, analyzing drug interactions, etc.)
・Online medical treatment (patient and doctor, doctor and specialist, etc.)
・Sharing requested information with parents in an easy-to-understand manner.
2. Living and Lifestyle Support
Nowadays, there are many devices with useful functions such as cleaning robots, electric wheelchairs, and self-driving cars. These technologies are utilized not only by the elderly but also by the general public. They are a necessity for some people who have difficulty in daily life on their own. These types of AI technology have the advantage of reducing the burden on the caregivers. In addition, they can assist in daily activities for those who require support. In other words, AI support can help both the caregivers and those who receive the care.
Moreover, many people who receive nursing care suffer from self-loathing, such as believing that they are a burden on others. For such individuals, AI support through robots could also help with regards to mental wellness and reducing anxiety.
In addition to the above, the systematization of once-manual activities, such as cashless payment and touch panels in restaurants, will help solve the labor shortage that results from an aging society. In order to actualize this, artificial intelligence needs to become more accessible for people of all ages and abilities.
3. Communication Support
Supporting communication is one of the most attractive features of artificial intelligence. There are many AI that can talk to people, such as “Alexa” and “Siri”. Both are AI assistants with a voice recognition system. Furthermore, they use natural language processing. This provides great support for people who have difficulty communicating, or even for those who feel lonely. There are also smartphone applications that claim to be artificially intelligent, making it possible for people to communicate with AI. The number of elderly people who suffer from loneliness is not small. Simply talking with someone can be expected to calm the mind and alleviate loneliness. This is just one of the ways in which the future of artificial intelligence could support the elderly population through communication.
Conversation is also good for your health because it uses your brain. The motor cortex in the frontal lobe activates when you talk, because you move your mouth and tongue. In addition, the auditory cortex in the temporal lobe activates when you use your ears to listen. The hippocampus, which is involved in memory, also becomes stimulated. Lastly, the prefrontal cortex is also activated by thinking while talking. In other words, conversation is a task that requires the brain to work at full speed. The further development of communication AI will be a great ally for the elderly, who may be prone to lack of communication.
Artificial Intelligence is Learning from Nursing Care Studies
One study observed caregiving practices across nursing care facilities in Japan. AI development received inspiration from the behavior of elderly residents in care facilities when they refuse to take baths. In general, when a resident does not want to take a bath, caregivers will consider this as a “refusal”. In these situations, the resident typically takes a bath on another day, or is forced to bathe.
At one facility, however, staff members make small talk with elderly people who do not want to take a bath. The caregivers hold casual conversations with the residents that are unrelated to bathing, observing the changes in gestures and facial expressions in the residents. This helps to ease the residents’ minds and calms them down. Once the resident is soothed, the caregiver will once again ask them to take a bath. More often than not, the resident will agree to the bath after this casual conversation.
AI development received hints from this study, through data conversion of information such as the caregiver’s tone of voice, eye contact, and other behaviors practiced while communicating with the residents. The accumulation of this information helps in the development of artificial intelligence that can effectively and compassionately communicate with the elderly population.
How is AI Different from a Robot?
As a side note, robots and AI are completely different things. A robot can perform a predetermined action in a precise and repetitive manner. They are not capable of learning and cannot make decisions on their own. This is because they cannot perform actions other than those that have been programmed.
Artificial intelligence, on the other hand, is able to learn and evolve like the human brain. For example, it can assist in nursing care, as described above, or learn to play games such as chess. This is possible through the simulation of hundreds and thousands of potential outcomes in the game. AI is capable of judging what the situation is and making the best move for the situation. As such, the future of AI is very exciting and the possibilities of application are practically endless.
Future Challenges for AI Development
In this way, artificial intelligence and other technologies can provide great support for the elderly in this aging society. The future of AI technology may provide endless possibilities in making our lives easier. However, we cannot deny that the technology it is still in its infancy.
While AI can perform fixed and routine tasks, they struggle with tasks that require a large amount of data collection. Moreover, they are not good at responding to what humans call “intuition” based on their past experience. As such, quantitative information is required to give accurate instructions. Research will continue to be conducted in areas where this is not possible.
It is no exaggeration to say that the development of technology will make people’s lives even more convenient. This does not only apply to the elderly. On the other hand, there are concerns that AI may take away human jobs. However, the likely truth is the future of artificial intelligence and other cutting-edge technologies will become indispensable elements to overcome the declining birthrate and aging population in today’s society.
Otake, M. (2016). AI for Prevention of Dementia and Assisting People with Dementia and Development of Support Services for Prevention of Dementia Co-created with Older Adults. Journal of the Japanese Society for Artificial Intelligence 31(3), 363-370. doi: 10.11517/jjsai.31.3_363
Sakamoto, M. (2016). Special Issue on “Super-Aging Society and AI: Social Life Support”. Journal of the Japanese Society for Artificial Intelligence, 31(3), 324-325. doi: 10.11517/jjsai.31.3_324
Takayanagi, H. (2019). Expectation for AI (Artificial Intelligence) on Elderly Medical Care. Japanese Journal of Geriatrics, 56(3), 254-259. doi: 10.3143/geriatrics.56.254